Greek leather crafting

Thousands of years of Greek leather crafting

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Leather crafting is an ancient art form that has been practiced for thousands of years. Born from necessity, it has evolved, often reflecting cultural needs. The material was first crafted with primitive tools by ancient man in the Stone Age in 5,000 BC.

During the the Homeric era in around 1200 BC, the Ancient Greeks were known to have used leather to craft protection for the feet, in the form of the iconic sandals and other garments. Leather was continued to be used for defensive purposes in shields, strong enough to withstand the toughest of battles.

The prevalence of leather manufacturing then started to spread to Egypt and later to Rome. It’s evolution can be traced around the world and through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Revolution, and into modern times.

Today, leather remains a timeless material available in a virtually unlimited array of colors, patterns, textures, and sheens. A true testament to human ingenuity and resourcefulness, it symbolizes durability and versatility, and it is connecting us to our ancestral past.

Greece remains famous for producing quality leather, and craftsmen turning it into high-end fashion items like handbags, purses, gloves, shoes, and sandals (some even custom-made on-site). The real inspiration can be traced back centuries.

According to Greek mythology, the gods and goddesses of Greece had their sandals made on Crete (the leather from the island was known to be the finest in the Ancient Greek world) by a gifted craftsman. This local sandal maker became famous after giving the messenger god Hermes a pair of flying sandals with supernatural powers.

Other popular sandals were those of Aegeus, one of the legendary kings of Athens, who gave his name to the Aegean Sea. He decided to hide them with a sword under a massive rock and planned on using these items as a sign to recognize his son Theseus, who would uncover them when he reached adulthood and returned to Athens.

In art, the “Nike Sandalizousa”  is an ancient marble relief of the Greek goddess of victory Nike in the process of fixing or removing the sandal of her right foot. This fifth-century BC sculpture originally adorned the Temple of Athena Nike in the Acropolis of Athens, and now it is kept in the Acropolis Museum of the Greek capital.

Poet Sandal Maker of Athens Stavros Melissinos photographed by his son Pantelis Melissinos (Credit: P5582, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The art of leather crafting has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, local skilled craftsmen using traditional, and in some cases centuries-old techniques can be found in Athens (Plaka, Monastiraki, Psiri districts), in Crete (Chania, Skridlof Street in Chania – famously known as ‘leather lane‘), Naxos, Rhodes, Mykonos, Halkidiki. Leather shops can be found in nearly every town you visit in Greece selling goods like wallets, handbags, chic summer sandals, and passport holders.

Greek leather crafting
Ancient Greek Sandals (Credit: Ancient Greek Sandals AGS)

The smell of soft leather exudes from the modern workshops of Greek sandal makers: From Olgianna Melissinos, daughter of Poet Sandal Maker of Athens Stavros Melissinos (whose creations were worn by The Beatles, Rudolph Nureyev, Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, Barbara Streisand, Anthony Quinn, Gary Cooper, Sophia Loren) to Christina Martini and Nicolas Minoglou’s Ancient Greek Sandals (AGS).

So whenever you visit Athens, or the Greek Islands, whether you’re a fashion-conscious shopper, or a busy professional, local leather goods are one of the best souvenirs from Greece since they’re built to last, giving you a special treasure that you’ll cherish for years to come.